Friday, October 30, 2015

Harefooted Halloween: It Follows

I’m gonna dispense with the usual format for this one because it’ll just be easier.

Image result for it followsWriter/director David Robert Mitchell decided to come up with a sorta new idea for a horror movie.  It’s not quite The Thing or zombies or Lifeforce, it’s this combination of concepts that forms something we haven’t exactly seen before.  And I’m totally all for that.  If you can bring a new horror model to screen I’m very interested. 

The problem is I don’t think what Mitchell came up with works very well.  This thing, “it”, is too vague to get wrapped up in and excited about.  Pretty much the only things we know are that “it" is passed from person to person through the act of sex (in other words an STD) and that only the people who have the, for lack of a better word, disease can see “it”.  The form it takes is of a person, could even be someone you know, but most of the time it looks like a stranger.

There’s no way of killing “it”, which bothered me I have to say.  To have this demon be a hundred percent unstoppable made for an unpleasant certain death march.  The fate of the characters seemed so hopeless that it was kinda tedious to watch.  All they can do is run and wait, run and wait, run and wait, etc. 

I think I understand what Mitchell was thinking when he came up with this idea.  It’s supposed to be scary because any random person on the street could be “it” and coming after you and you don’t even know it (presuming you’re sexually active).  And the monster won’t stop until you’re dead.  But the concept is too broad with no sinister edge to occupy your mind and/or cool looking creature to stimulate your eyes.  What we have is a mindless killing machine with absolutely nothing behind it.  It’s murdering without motive, passion or thought which is difficult to enjoy.  I imagine this is supposed to mirror a disease but it feels contrived.  Blowing up a disease to be human sized and still retain its attributes comes off as kinda dumb largely.  I dunno.

Image result for it followsAnyway, this is more of a character driven horror movie which I appreciate.  However none of them are particularly interesting.  I didn’t find myself being too invested in anyone which is bad considering you’re with this group of friends the entire time.  Not only that but the acting is incredibly flat most of the time.  They’re all so devoid of energy and emotion which adds to the tedium.        

Oh, and that was another thing.  I was so confused about the relationships they had with each other.  Some were sisters, maybe a brother and a sister, maybe all friends, cousins?  I didn’t know who these people were to each other and you need to know that when there are crushes, sex and past relationships be thrown around with the dialogue.  In this specific area that’s some poor writing, editing or both.

The film is pretty to look at though with almost no shaky cam.  The filmmakers took their time to set up their shots and made sure everything was very pleasing on a technical level.  They also restrained themselves with the jump scares.  There are a couple here but in the hands of other folks there could’ve been ten times more.  So I’ll say thanks for trying to be smarter than that.

Image result for it followsOne more thing before I warp this up.  The unidentifiable time period that the movie takes place in was extremely distracting.  Most of the technology and look is from the 70’s/80’s but there’s a cell phone, an e-reader and some newer cars.  I don’t know if this mix was intentional to make the movie feel timeless or if Mitchell wanted it to be set in the 70’s/80’s but for whatever reason pulled out at the last minute.  Either way it annoyed the shit outta me.  Pick a time period and stick with it please.

Overall this is kind of a slog.  I know this got a ton of great reviews and a lot of people out there seem to like it a bunch, but I didn’t think it was that good.  It all sounds fantastic on the surface: a new idea for a horror picture, mostly well shot and edited, almost no bullshit jump scares and a character driven story.  But it just doesn’t come together.  The biggest problem is the base premise of the film, on which you hang all of the other elements, really needed to be worked out more.

Honestly guys, I’d say this is a skipper.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Harefooted Halloween: The Village of the Damned (1995)

Image result for the village of the damned 1995What I Liked: It’s competently made and tries its best to move the story along.

Christopher Reeve (The Aviator) really grew on me as the movie went.  At first he seemed wooden and bland with his dull medical practice and his dull wife and all that.  But as he gets deeper into the evilness of what’s going on around him he becomes more compelling and pretty pissed off.  I like it. 

What I Didn’t Like: Kirstie Alley (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) wasn’t very good but at the same time it’s not a great character.  I think the government agent keeping tabs on what’s happening with the mystery children and town is fine to have in the movie but it’s just that she didn’t need to be so inhuman.  Maybe they’re saying the ol’ it takes an unfeeling creature to catch/understand an unfeeling creature?  I dunno.  If this character is gonna be this devoid of emotion she should be more badass.  But instead she doesn’t do a whole helluva lot.    

Image result for the village of the damned 1995Ugh, I don’t know guys.  It’s just kinda boring.

Overall Impression: This is a little better than I remembered from many years ago but not much.  You all know I’m a huge Carperterant and I get a kick out of anything the man does but this one is down there in his repertoire.

The setup isn’t bad with this town full of women being impregnated by an unseen alien force.  And even the part where the babies are first born and no one’s on to the kids being totally evil is fine.  But once the demon children grow and the town simply accepts their fate to be subservient to these malicious kids it becomes uninteresting and predictable.

Image result for the village of the damned 1995My guess is after tackling the meta craziness of In the Mouth of Madness Carpenter wanted to mellow out with a much simpler project.  He must be a fan of the original 1960 film as well as the book it was based on, called “The Midwich Cuckoos”, because this is one of only two remakes he did (The Thing (1982) is the other).

Interestingly this was a slight anomaly, a weak blip in the middle of a damn fine run from In theMouth of Madness through Vampires.  It’s completely non-essential but if you’re starting to run out of Carpenter material this isn’t the worst picture he’s made.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Harefooted Halloween: Sadako 2 3D

Image result for sadako 2 3dWhat I Liked: The serious tone is back and mostly welcomed.  This little four year old girl has powers to kill and it’s actually sorta convincing.  She has this depressed evil little face that makes you feel a little off so you know it’s not safe around her.  Good job kid.

The story moves along well with people dying fairly often.  It’s interesting that mood doesn’t seem to be the driving force here like in all the other Ring movies (except Sadako 3D).  This one has the dark atmosphere but is structured more like a monster film with folks biting it every so many minutes and there not being too much focus until the end when the protagonist finally wakes up and tries to figure out a way to stop this thing.  I liked that because it was different for the series.

What I Didn’t Like: While the plot does chug along nicely there’s a dream sequence part in the middle that goes on a little too long for my taste.  They pull the ol’ dream within a dream gag that I have no respect for.  Here’s my takeaway, whenever you see this it’s the filmmakers being indecisive about which dream they liked better and just threw them both in for the hell of it.  Make a decision guys.

Image result for sadako 2 3dThe ending is incredibly clunky and even kinda confusing.  Not that the picture was really great or anything up until that point but they made matters worse by coming up with a very messy conclusion.   

Overall Impression: After the over the top almost grindhouse-esque concept of Sadako 3D the filmmakers decided to tone it way down.  They went serious on this and that was a semi-pleasant surprise.  I was kinda into the direction its predecessor went and was looking forward to another installment of that vision.  But to get dark and moody again brought things back to where these movies probably belong.

Image result for sadako 2 3dWhat’s really strange though is that the concept for this one is so far removed from the other Ring films and universe that it doesn’t fit.  I had theorized that Sadako 3D was another script before being turned into a Ring picture.  This one definitely feels like that too.  In fact even more so.  There’s no cursed video (VHS or YouTube version) and basically no Sadako (she has maybe ten seconds of screen time).  Instead someone’s electronic device goes haywire and then they kill themselves.  No curse either.  The ones who die are whoever the little girl chooses.

It’s kinda bogus to call this a Ring movie.  But otherwise it’s pretty alright.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Harefooted Halloween: Communion

Image result for communion 1989
What I Liked: The material is interesting because you don’t know for sure if what you’re seeing is real.  Chris Walken (King of New York, Batman Returns) isn’t sure himself right up until the end.  Did he get abducted by aliens or is he fucking crazy?

Walken looks like he had a blast making this.  He gets to go through an entire gamut of emotions like confusion, joy, anger, delusion, understanding, denial, etc.  It seems like director Philippe Mora (The Howling II…Your Sister Is a Werewolf) let him loose and trusted that whatever Walken would do would be the right thing.  Half the time it does feel like the right thing and the other half…well it’s still fun to watch.

What I Didn’t Like: The alien effects aren’t very good, especially the thinner ones that appear to be little more than marionettes.  Although, I can see an argument that the low budget effects makes this even stranger and blurs the line between reality and hallucination.

They showed too much of the aliens and the inside of their ship.  Being so generous with this footage seems to point more in the direction that everything you’re seeing really happened.  If the filmmakers had been more ambiguous and thrown in some shadows and obstructions ‘n shit then I think the movie as a whole would’ve had more of an impact.  It’s really because I’m not a huge fan of the alien designs here that I think it would’ve been beneficial to leave it more to the imagination.

Image result for communion 1989The Eric Clapton soundtrack was a huge mistake and undercuts the otherworldly mood the film sets.  It was fine in the drug fueled 70’s set Rush (1991) but not in a modern day (1989) alien abduction movie.

Overall Impression: First, I liked this picture and enjoyed the serious direction they went with an alien abduction/encounter.  However, there’s certainly a B movie edge and in this case that’s unfortunate.  In the hands of a top grade director and a better cinematographer this could’ve been a masterpiece.  The casting is great and most of the script is good.  It just needed better technical execution and a few storytelling tweaks.  The potential can be easily seen throughout.

It’s a fascinating idea to have a guy not know, and not want to believe, that he was abducted and experimented on by aliens.  His experiences keep coming back to him and he can’t shake it.  There are horror elements here and there like intrusion, mystery of the unknown, traumatization, questionable sanity and others that give the movie a dark tone.  But I wouldn’t classify this as straight horror.  More like a drama with a couple packets of eeriness mixed in. 

Image result for communion 1989This is all based on writer Whitley Strieber and his family’s real life experiences which makes things all the more intriguing.  He wrote a book about it (interestingly he also wrote the novels “Wolfen” and “The Hunger”) and claims everything in there actually happened.  It’s a little hard to buy considering Strieber is in the horror writing business but it’s still a curious testimonial.   

This is another one like TheWicker Man that gives such a different spin on horror that you could even say it doesn’t belong in the genre.  This is a tough recommendation but if you’re feeling adventurous this is a nice change of pace.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Harefooted Halloween: The Wicker Man (2006)

Image result for the wicker man 2006What I Liked: Almost nothing.

What I Didn’t Like: Almost everything.

Overall Impression: Even though I saw this when it came out I remembered very little about it.  So now after seeing the 1973 Wicker Man my first thought was this is going to be impossible to remake.  How the hell are you gonna capture the completely strange feel and unique vision of the quasi-horror original? You might as well try to remake Lost Highway or Monty Python and the Holy Grail

And, of course, this is a total failure.  Every change made was for the worse.  There’s really no point in listing why nothing works because it would be incredibly tedious. 

Image result for the wicker man 2006I know there are a good number of folks out there that think this is a so-bad-it’s-good movie but I didn’t find it to be that way.  There are a couple of moments that do stand out as being laughably terrible but there aren’t nearly enough of them to come all the way around and make the film enjoyable.        

So if you haven’t seen the original Wicker Man you should try to catch it.  It’s definitely weird but it’s also thoughtful.  As for this thing, it’s as soulless a remake as you can get.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Harefooted Halloween: The Wicker Man

Image result for the wicker man 1973What I Liked: Almost everything.

What I Didn’t Like: The musical segments were a tad annoying at first.  It took me a little while to get into the idea that music (in particular Celtic folk type music) plays a big part in this.  I’m not sure that it quite works in the beginning because the mysterious unsettling mood that’s trying to be set keeps getting interrupted by a folk song.  But I have a feeling this will bother me less with each viewing.

Overall Impression: Even though I had seen the 2006 remake when it came out this is the first time I saw the original and wow, what a totally unique and bizarre movie guys.  I get it now why this film has endured all of these years.  You see, the ending is one of the worst kept secrets in film history and so I figured the whole experience wouldn’t have much of an impact because of that.  Boy was I wrong.

Image result for the wicker man 1973What makes The Wicker Man (written by Anthony Shaffer (Frenzy, Sleuth)) a cool as hell picture is how unabashedly strange it is when it comes to the story and the characters.  It’s labeled as a horror movie but it doesn’t have very many horror film qualities that we normally think of.  This is about a cop (Edward Woodward (The Equalizer (TV))) that goes to a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a little girl.  When he gets there he discovers almost immediately that the townspeople are fucking way out there.  They have orgies outside in public, dace around a bon fire naked, hang human flesh from trees, sell items like foreskin in the local store and etc.  It all stems from their religion which involves a lot of sex and nature.

Since the cop is a devout Christian, and just not from the island, he’s appalled by all of this.  You’re going on the journey with him into this whacked out world and for him it’s a nightmare.  Yes, we all know about the physical pain at the end of the movie but there’s mental and emotional pain throughout.  The cop is slowly being killed by metaphysical means for most of the picture.  And even though he’s kind of an uptight asshole we feel for him and don’t want to see him tortured like this.

Image result for the wicker man 1973This one turns horror on its ear and bypasses the typical spooky atmosphere with dark shadows, gruesome creatures, eerie music and blood.  You know how Eyes Wide Shut feels like a horror movie at times?  The mood is off-putting just enough in scenes like the orgy party and when Tom Cruise is being followed that it seems like you’ve entered into some circle of hell for a moment.  The Wicker Man is like that except it’s pretty much the entire movie.  Combine that with a strong and thought provoking statement on religion and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind viewing experience.

If you haven’t checked it out you probably should.  As I said before, everyone knows the ending but that’s far from all there is to it.  You could write a whole thesis on this thing really.  But most of us aren’t going to do that so sit back and take it in.  If you’re looking for something different, you got it.